Just returning from a high-altitude trek in the Himalayas and thought I'd share the nature's beauty & my day-to-day jottings.
Though on my wish list for the past 2yrs, the opportunity to do the Goechala trek came out of the blue just 12days prior to departure - a drop out in a group of 12 adventure club members (whom I'd never met, except their leader whom I'd met at a Cyclathon last year).
The Goechala trek, near the Sikkim- Nepal border, is rated as the 5th toughest high-altitude trek in India and takes u close to the majestic Khandchendzonga peak. Over 8 days we cover around 85kms, reaching the highest altitude of about 4600mts. What makes it tough, is the rapid gain in altitude due to the steep climbs, which in turn also increases the risks of AMS.
Day 1 started from the quaint little town of Yuksom, an easy climb through dense forests and along Prekchu river. Followed the slowest in the group, so made my life easy and gave me lots of time to chat with trek leader Piyush - interesting character who had loads of stories about treks and how their lives have changed over years.
The 2nd day was another 8km climb day. Along the route we were overtook by the trainees of the HMI & was absolutely bowled over by the loads they were carrying. Chatted with a few of them on the way and heard interesting story about their training from Piyush.
Wondering if it’s a good idea for my 19yr old son to do the basic course, given his love for outdoors.
Then came the killer climb of day 3, a 1000mts gain over 8hrs with my loaded backpack. Lived up-to its reputation as the toughest and most dangerous day of this trek. Saw quite a few of my co-trekker’s struggle, but I did it comfortably at a slow constant pace with micro breaks in between. Felt all along that it (the breathlessness, the muscle burning, etc.) was lighter than my "running" training, which I’ve been doing since a year in preparation for this trek. The Rhodenderon canopy (the photograph of which was what had attracted me to this trek), though not in full bloom & the wood paved path, was lovely to walk though in the initial half.
a lovely mist covered descent in the Phedang to Djongri stretch
Day 4 started in the 3am cold & by 4am we were doing the 45min climb to the Djongri Top to see the 1st lights on the Khandchendzonga & Kabru peaks. Lovely sight – our cameras don’t do justice to its beauty.
Left Djongri at about 9am for a tough trek - though not much height gain, it was long with lots of up and downs. The toughest part, was the last hour, through the strewn rocks of the 2020 flash floods.
Got lucky to encounter a huge wild Yak, which decided not to "take Pangga" with me and walked away.
Had an hour of mild lovely snowfall, but it was in the descents, which required loads of concentration. Developed a headache over the last half – suspected AMS & cheated it with my puff. The rickety bridges over streams reminded me of the YT travel videos I watch with kids.
The barren stretch just out of Djongri
The rickety bridges
the rubble of the flash floods makes the stretch tiring
A bewitching view, 5.30am at Thansing camp, the snow flake covered tents and poles, with the grazing horses & dawn lights on the peaks in the background.
A short 3hr trek to the Lumaney camp, was breathless at every step. Huge clouds glide past us at ground level getting in the chill as we cross multiple small streams, followed by a light snowfall. The majestic Pandim peak, at an arm's length away from my tent, is absolutely mesmerizing.
the majestic Pandim an arm's length away
At 4pm, in tent at Lumaney camp, snowing outside, layered up 5 layers, breathless even at small tasks like wearing socks, SpO2 88%. Radhika's & Kiran's words (don’t push yourself if not comfortable and play safe, don't get carried away by the saying 'age is just a number') keeps reminding me to rethink tomorrow's summit climb.
By lights out for the day at 7pm, the scene was of heavy snowfall, clouds sailing past my tent & biting cold (around -5°C) till about 12midnight.
The compulsory midnight bladder relieving activity, though a torture in the cold, comes with its perks - the clear sky filled with stars against the outline of the humungous mountains. A beauty to behold and the one that draws me on these body torturing Himalayan treks. Spent about 15min out in the cold, drinking in the views & enjoying the solitude.
The summit climb started at 3am, but with the mind warned about a doubtful viewing of the Khandchendzonga due to cloud cover. A tough climb in the snow-covered mud and stone path, tiring and breathless amidst the snowfall, minus temperatures and lancinating winds. For a brief moment midway, thought of giving up and turning back, but my grit took over. By 4.30, daylight over the Pandim peak was a steroid to the drained body. Reached the Goechala view-point at 6.30, but no sight of the Khandchendzonga. Didn't matter much, as it was never a "Target" for me. The views of the mammoth glacier residues surrounded by the peaks were worth it.
The return had a 200mts segment which was extremely dangerous & scary - not worth taking the risks. Surprisingly, don’t recall it being dangerous on my way up – probably the adrenaline rush near the summit blinded me. Was hand guided by a guide through this, with just one small slip. The semi- frozen Samiti lake on the way back was a beautiful sight to behold and a good & much required resting place.
On return to camp, was given time to sleep (around 9-10am), but where can i nap at that hour. Spent time staring at & wondering about the creation of these massive peaks on either side of me.
Exhausting, do i turn back ?? With this view "No way!"
Glacier residues at Goech la View point
Glacier residues at Goech la View point
the descent with the Samiti Lake beckoning us
post summit relax by Samiti Lake
On day 7, @6pm I write - Absolutely exhausting descent of 10.5hrs. Wondering why do I undertake such adventures! Surprisingly, the knees held up quite well through it.
At 8pm, in the warmth of the tent I reminisce the day – After the overnight snowfall, the view around the camp area in the early morn light was a relief to the chilled body. The first 2hrs of the descent, though treacherous due to the snow layering over the rocks, was a treat to the eye - makes the exhaustion felt in the evening worth the effort. Snow over the trees, spread all over the landscape, frozen waterfalls at a distance, a loud, pristine & powerful river. Amazingly seductive.
After coming across 3 Khaleej pheasants out of the blue, I slowed down further & took extra time searching for more, but turned out to be a futile exercise.
Thansing campsite at dawn
the majestic Pandim from the Thansing camp
snow on the strewn rocks makes climbing difficult
a dream come true
break at the Prekchu river crossing
Last day of the trek was a long descent of about 17kms over 7 hrs - took my sweet time to cover it, with a lot of care not to slip (as has been my history). While everyone was in a hurry to get back, I seemed to be the only one enjoying the dense forests and noises (birds & waterfalls) surrounding me. Chatted with a couple of interesting people on the way - an auditor who has created a bird hide in middle of Calcutta, an internationally acclaimed Caving expert from Meghalaya, a young chap whose hobby is "Waterfall hunting".
More than 50% of today's walk was done alone, with the mind working overtime on – “Next trek should be Sandakphu or Kashmir Great Lakes or Tarsar or Bhuran Ghati or …………”
last night's gastronomical delight in the mountains